Thursday, October 28, 2010

Huge Problem . . .

There's been a lot of news lately about obesity on TV.

According to the CDC, 1 in 4 people in the United States is obese. I don't have to tell you, that's a lot of people. You can do the math. Or, you can look around. While in the media there is an incredible prevalence of less-than-zero images out there; ie: stick-thin models and stars who are then Photoshopped to look even thinner, the actual American public is growing in size. So, it seems natural that some of these "regular" people would start to show up in the media, right? A few years ago, you couldn't find a gay person on TV. The same will happen with the overweight, it stands to reason.

And, superficially, it almost seems to be happening. This fall, CBS introduced a show called Mike and Molly, about two overweight people who meet and fall in love. ABC Family ran a critically-acclaimed show called Huge, set at a fat camp. Lifetime runs a successful show called Drop Dead Diva, with a plus-size star. We're getting better, right? More accepting, less size-ist?

Wrong. Just take a look at these examples: CBS' Mike and Molly may feature two overweight stars, but nearly 100% of each episode is dedicated to their weight. Fat-jokes, some of them horribly embarrassing, abound. Drop Dead Diva makes a big deal about the fact that the concept of the show is centered around a thin, "beautiful" woman who dies and is put in a fat body. I'm not kidding, this is the concept. And, ABC Family's Huge, the only one of the lot that dealt with overweight characters as people irregardless of their weight, has been cancelled by the network. A little too groundbreaking, it would seem.

Today the blogosphere is alive with the controversy initiated by a blog post by Marie Claire contributor Maura Kelly that suggests strongly that "fatties", as she calls them, are too disgusting to watch on television. She sites Mike and Molly and says that it is unattractive to watch these two actors making out, that she cannot even handle watching a fat person cross a room without feeling grossed out. She has since been forced to post an apology after the barrage of anger this post created (I can almost feel the Marie Claire spiked stilletto in the back behind her retraction), and Marie Claire has been quick to jump on the tolerance bandwagon with a new series of posts suggesting that fat people should be--gasp--treated the same as thin people by the media. This is extraordinary, given that it comes from a fashion publication that would probably shut down rather than publish an issue with unretouched images of plus-sized models within its pages (and remember: plus-sized in the modeling world is size 10-14. The average American woman is size 14-18). Not that Marie Claire deserves all the blame; every other magazine, with few exceptions, does the same. London Fog was recently called out by feminist blog Jezebel for Photoshopping inches off new spokeswoman Christina Hendricks in their ad campaign, an actress famous for her size-12 curves. Nobody in the media, it seems, is comfortable looking at "fatties".

We live in a society that preaches tolerance, but often offers very little, and obesity seems to be the last allowable prejudice. It's okay to put down a fat person because it's unhealthy, right? And it's okay to show fat people on TV as long as we make sure to remind the viewer of their "other-ness" constantly, by referring to, or worse, making jokes about their weight. Think about the little girl watching television or reading Marie Claire, the little girl whose body doesn't look like those models and stars, and is being systematically taught to hate herself with every fat joke and hateful op-ed she sees. Being fat is not disgusting. It's the haters who are.

Personally, I may never buy another issue of Marie Claire again.


grace e said...

I don't think anyone should be mistreated or made fun of, but in accepting them I wouldn't want the severity of their condition be ignored. My Aunt died fairly young of obesity, she left behind three children and two great grands. She had opportunities to help herself but she ignored it until it was to late. So when I see someone in the store or on the street who is morbidly obese I want to run up to them and tell them that they are dieing slowly. You don't have to be pencil thin which I believe is just as bad, but please for your own sake and for those that love you take care or your health while you can!!!

Anonymous said...

Actually, I really like Drop Dead Diva, and yes, the plot is that a model dies and then ends up in the body of a plus-sized lawyer who dies at the same time. But despite her intial dismay, she really adapts to the body she's in. And she ends up enjoying not starving herself, and she's a pretty, smart, successful, plus-sized lawyer who drives a nice car, wears nice clothes, and dates attractive men. There are no fat jokes. The character's body is just who she is and she's not asked to be the butt of jokes because of her weight, or frumpy because of it. Or someone who isn't attractive to men. I think it's a pretty positive show, actually.

I really liked Huge too - plus sized cast set at a fat camp, but no fat jokes, and the main character (who is pictured in the graphic you show above) is actually very happy with herself and doesn't want to be at fat camp. She has a very positive self-image. It's really really a shame it was canceled.

There have been many many posts out there about fat not always equaling unhealthy. Yes, obesity can be a real health concern. But thinness does not automatically equal health either. There are plenty of active, healthy people are are not thin. And plenty of people who are heavy because of medication. Maura Kelly's blog was not only distasteful and offensive, it was inaccurate and condescending.

Ginger said...


I think I take exception more with Drop Dead Diva for the early stuff than for the show now. There is much less reference to her weight now, and it is awesome that she's stylish, smart, and fun.

Huge was amazing, and I want to wag my finger at ABC Family for cancelling it despite a loyal fanbase and critical acclaim. It really was like no other show out there, and in its place we have the terrible, cringe-worthy Mike and Molly, perpetuating every stereotype.

Tricia McWhorter said...

I'm sorry to hear that they've cancelled "Huge". I really liked that show. It irritates me that so many people feel they have the right to be mean to others based on how they look. I appreciated your post.

Nicole said...

Thank you for this. I always read your posts, and I never comment. But I just wanted to applaud you for putting this out there.

Huge was great, and whether we like it or not, there are always going to be overweight people, myself included.

Why not give people great role models to look up to, instead of shoving stick thin models in our faces?

People come in all shapes, sizes, colors...

How boring would it be if we were all the same.